The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 05/04/11
LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, “THE LAST WORD” HOST: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW is up next.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Lawrence. I am so looking forward to your Condoleezza Rice interview, I cannot even express it.
O‘DONNELL: That makes three of us.
MADDOW: I bet. Tell her I said hi.
MADDOW: Thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.
When the White House announced today that they would not be releasing any photographs of Osama bin Laden that were taken after U.S. forces killed him on Sunday, the news was received pretty positively across the political spectrum in Washington.
The Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee is one of the few people who have actually see any of the imagery the White House was considering releasing. His name is Mike Rogers. He‘s a Republican congressman from Michigan.
And even before the White House announcement today about the photos, Congressman Rogers put out a statement urging today that they not be released. He said, quote, “Osama bin Laden is not a trophy. He is dead, and let‘s now focus on continuing the fight until al Qaeda has been eliminated. The risk of release outweighs the benefits. There is a real risk that releasing the photos will only serve to inflame opinion in the Middle East.”
Republican Congressman Peter King, who‘s chair of the House Homeland Security Committee—he‘s been critical of President Obama on practically everything related to national security. He was also the chairman who was unmoved by criticism that he‘d be needlessly inflaming anti-Muslim sentiment in the U.S. with his religiously radically charged hearings in his committee.
But even that Peter King in saying today that he disagreed with the president‘s decision about the photos, even Peter King said today that he respected the president‘s decision, that it was the president‘s decision to make and he said that he would, quote, “not oppose it.”
The one substantive and strong objection to President Obama‘s decision from a mainstream Republican today came from Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Senator Graham made this argument. He said, quote, “The whole purpose of sending our soldiers into the compound, rather than an aerial bombardment, was to obtain indisputable proof of bin Laden‘s death. I know bin Laden is dead. But the best way to prove and defend our interest overseas is to prove that fact to the rest of the world. I‘m afraid the decision made today by President Obama will unnecessarily prolong this debate.”
That is a—I think, a rational and well-argued statement from Senator Graham. The problem with that argument is that his hypothesis has been tested in the past. His argument that the U.S. should provide photos to indisputably prove that this death happened—that was the justification that George W. Bush administration used when they chose to release post-death photos of Saddam Hussein‘s sons back in 2003.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD RUMSFELD, BUSH DEFENSE SECRETARY: These two individuals are particularly vicious individuals. They are now dead. We know that. They have been carefully identified.
The Iraqi people are—have been waiting for confirmation of that.
And they in my view deserved having confirmation of that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Was the release of the dead photographs of the Uday and Qusay, was that confirmation for the Iraqi people that they were in fact dead?
Here‘s how Richard Engel reported on that question for “NBC Nightly News” when the Uday and Qusay photos were released. One quick word of warning here, Richard‘s report here does contain shots of the fairly graphic photos in question.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS (voice-over): “No way I‘m convinced,” says this man. “I‘m 100 percent unconvinced.”
We asked others in the store to raise their hands if they were equally doubtful. These men thought the pictures, especially the one of Saddam‘s older son Uday, shot in the mouth just don‘t look right. Uday was known to be thin with a close beard. This picture shows him with a shaved head, swollen face and long beard. People here thought the photo of his brother Qusay was a closer match.
“Why didn‘t they take the photographs right away,” asked this man, “before they got all bloated?”
“The pictures are doctored on a computer,” he charges.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Doctored on a computer.
If releasing gruesome photographs of dead bodies was accepted as indisputable proof that the people in those pictures are, in fact, dead, that could be a good argument for releasing the bin Laden photos now. But even eight years ago in that shop in Baghdad, people had enough awareness of PhotoShopping technology to be suspicious of any photo that proved something that they didn‘t want to believe for whatever reason, then the good you can accomplish by releasing one of these photos is diminished. And you have to weigh that diminished good against any potential bad consequences that could come from putting the photographs out.
Three years after the Uday and Qusay photos were released, the U.S. government did something like that again after they killed the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The Iraq war has been a war that‘s had a lot of strange press conferences, a lot of strange “made for TV” moments. Whether it be the “made for TV” of tearing down of the Saddam Hussein‘s statue in Baghdad‘s Firdos Square, or the really well-choreographed tours of Saddam‘s former palaces that were offered by the United States military. There have been some strange scenes out of the Iraq war beamed to American televisions.
But one of the strangest “made for TV” moments of the entire Iraq war was this one. Do you remember this visual? Remember this? This was the press conference back in 2006 when the U.S. made a huge show of revealing the photo that was taken of al-Zarqawi‘s face after he was killed.
Somewhat inexplicably, officials chose to put the close up picture of Zarqawi‘s face in kind of an ornate gold-colored frame. All of the pageantry and puffery around the importance of al-Zarqawi‘s death essentially had the effect of making him a much more well-known figure in death than he had been in life. The triumphalist unveiling of the big gold-framed “we got him” photo was followed shortly thereafter by this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The sign here says, “The waiting of the martyr.”
For the people here, Zarqawi is a hero who has gone to paradise.
Children chase us away from the mourning tent with stones and rocks chanting, “God is great.” Here at least, al-Zarqawi is a hero.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: A martyrdom celebration for the previously not all that well-known Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Later that same year, after Saddam Hussein was executed, images that were released from that event also ended up doing recognizable harm. A gory cell phone video was leaked of that execution. It featured Shiite sectarian chants directed at Saddam Hussein before he was hanged. Here‘s the audio of that scene.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Muqtada! Muqtada! Muqtada!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: We‘re not going to show you the rest of the video, but it goes on to show Saddam Hussein, of course, a Sunni, being hanged Shiites who are yelling sectarian things at him. When they‘re yelling, “Muqtada! Muqtada! Muqtada!” That is a reference to Muqtada al-Sadr, one Saddam Hussein‘s main opponents in Iraq, a Shiite religious figure.
The release of that video was, to say the least, not helpful to Iraq‘s bloody sectarian divide at the time.
Now, four years later, President Obama has the ultimate trophy photo if he wants to make it that, of the world‘s most recognizable terrorist, the man the United States has been hunting for 10 years. Here‘s how we explain to the CBS program “60 Minutes” today why his decision to is that the images of bin Laden should not be released.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you see the pictures?
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was your reaction when you saw them?
OBAMA: It was him.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why haven‘t you released them?
OBAMA: You know, we discussed this internally. Keep in mind that we are absolutely certain this was him. We‘ve done DNA sampling and testing. And so, there is no doubt that we killed Osama bin Laden.
It is important for us to make sure that very graphic photos of somebody who was shot in the head are not floating around as an incitement to additional violence, as a propaganda tool. You know, that‘s not who we are.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That‘s not who we are. Mr. Obama went on to say, “We don‘t trot out this stuff as trophies. We don‘t need to spike the football.” President making essentially an ethical point of why he chose not to release those photos in saying “that‘s not who we are.” But also making a couple of strategic points—one, what he described as very graphic photos of somebody who was shot in the head. Do not become an incitement to further violence against the United States or something to be used by propaganda by the followers of Osama bin Laden.
But also to Senator Lindsey Graham‘s criticism, that indisputable proof be provided of bin Laden‘s death. Mr. Obama arguing, quote, “We don‘t think that a photograph in and of itself is going to make any difference. There are going to be some folks who deny it.”
Releasing a photograph, releasing any kind of factual evidence is not going to quell people who are invested in a conspiracy theory that serves their own purposes. This is something that we can intuitively understand. It‘s also something that Mr. Obama understands personally from very, very, very recent experience in a very different context.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For some reason there‘s green—there‘s a green
border around it that had to be PhotoShopped in. I‘m trying to figure out
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, this whole border is suspect. I mean, if you‘re taking a scan of something, to your point it would be white.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Listen, it may or may not be, but certainly opens up the can of worms that there are at least questions for it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Joining us now is P.J. Crowley. He is the former spokesman for the United States State Department. He served in that job until this past March when he resigned, after having criticized the conditions of confinement of the WikiLeaks suspect, U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning.
Mr. Crowley, it‘s really nice to have you here. Thanks for joining us.
P.J. CROWLEY, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: A pleasure, Rachel.
MADDOW: You are intimately familiar with the players who have been involved in the decisions. What do you think the decision making process was like on this issue of the bin Laden photos?
CROWLEY: Well, inside the government, there‘s a concept of strategic communication. And we know that these photographs or videos as you just detailed have power. The question is: what are you communicating for, what purpose?
I‘m not sure that the doubters out there, and there sure are some, are that large a group. But what I do know is that there are people who aspire to be martyrs out there. In the concept of strategic communication, you don‘t want to give your opposition something for free. And the idea that releasing an iconic photo might be used as propaganda purposes might validate that martyrdom psyche in some way I think tilted towards the decision the president made.
MADDOW: Even taking into account the fact that anybody who is a doubter is not necessarily going to be convinced by further evidence. The point I was trying to make with the birth certificate allegory there. Even taking that into account, what other good could it do to release the photo?
CROWLEY: Well, of course, the president hasn‘t foreclosed that for example if Obama—Osama bin Laden‘s number two, Zarqawi, decides to use this and deny that bin Laden is dead, we always have the option of refuting him, you know, for a larger purpose. But we‘ve made an intelligent decision in avoiding the shrine of bin Laden. I think we are making an equally intelligent decision in releasing an iconic photo that can only be used by bin Laden‘s supporters to promote and extol martyrdom.
MADDOW: Part of the justification I think for – at least what seemed to be part of the rational for releasing the al Zarqawi photo in Iraq, and again, very different circumstances, was not just to quell anybody who might doubt that he‘s dead, but also to sort of put a head on a pike, in a way—essentially to treat it as a trophy to create either a threatening effect, some sort of deterrence effect about that, or just to lord it over anybody that might support him that this can be done. It‘s a different form of exertion of power.
CROWLEY: I think in that case, the United States had multiple audiences convincing Saddam Hussein who was still alive at the time, you know, we‘ve got your sons and we can come after you—or convincing the Iraqi people that the resistance that was occurring at that time is futile. There was a different purpose to a different audience.
I mean, ordinarily, one would say philosophically release everything you can unless there‘s a reason not to. In this case because of the unique psyche of al Qaeda and bin Laden, our strategic objective is to avoid having him deified in death anymore than he was already a commanding figure in life. And I think the president made the right decision.
MADDOW: Secretary Clinton is one of the people who we‘ve been told who argued against releasing a photo. Having worked so closely with her at the State Department—and again, what you know of this administration, what you describe as a sort of philosophical orientation toward disclosure, that you put information out when you have a choice to unless there‘s a reason not to, I understand that as a philosophical point. But I wonder if that really is the inclination. If in matters of national security you feel like the bias really is towards more information not toward less. It still feels like a pretty close world of information for a journalist and for a bystander.
CROWLEY: Many people have said and rightfully so, that bin Laden was a figure, he was a terrorist, but he was also an idea. And we are in a battle of narratives here. One of the reasons I‘m concerned about the concept of war on terror, for example, is, it actually gives al Qaeda something that they want. They feel themselves to be holy warriors. They want to be seen like that.
And so, we have to be intelligent about how we communicate, not so much those who are already committed to the al Qaeda cause, but those who might be susceptible, you know, to that message.
I think the other point is, you know, for the most part, there hasn‘t been a real debate in the Middle East. I mean, it‘s remarkable that as we see this transformation, al Qaeda has not been a major player. Bin Laden has not been a major figure. Most people in the Middle East, as I see it, have said, OK, fine, we‘re focused on our situation and our country and our need for a government to do better, our need to change the government that has been oppressing us for a while.
So, obviously, he‘s been inserted into this transformative period, but there‘s no reason to make bin Laden a larger figure than he already is.
I think, in essence, since 2005, the popularity of al Qaeda and the invincibility of bin Laden have actually been in decline. And I think the president made the right decision.
MADDOW: Do you think than given that argument, do you think the president was right to make the sort of formal statement he made from the White House on Sunday night? Do you think he‘s right to go to Ground Zero tomorrow for essentially a press availability and to be seen bringing the news of bin Laden‘s death to the place where it will have the most resonance for Americans.
CROWLEY: OK. And there are twin audiences here. I think, obviously, Sunday night at the White House, he was telling the American people, he was also telling the world, this is what we‘ve accomplished. Now, I think it is trying to help the American people—particularly those here in New York come to closure about a very searing event in our history.
MADDOW: P.J. Crowley, former State Department spokesman—I have been an ardent follower of yours on Twitter—and also somebody who I have been looking forward to talking to for a long time. I hope you come back and join us again.
CROWLEY: It would be a pleasure.
MADDOW: Thank you very much.
More ahead on how the bin Laden news affects the national debate about the Afghanistan war, about some of the political news that is getting buried, perhaps deliberately, in all of the wall-to-wall bin Laden coverage.
Also, robotic exoskeletons, because it‘s Wednesday and there is a vaguely a reason to talk about robotic exoskeletons. So, we will take that opportunity.
Please stay with us.
MADDOW: After al Qaeda attacked the United States on September 11th, 2001, the United States started one war within weeks of that attack in Afghanistan and another war a year and a half later in Iraq. For U.S. troops there have been two signature wounds of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The first is traumatic brain injury caused often by explosions. The second is injury to the extremities, the arms and legs, the torso being protected by body armor, the head protected as much as it can by a helmet. The extremities exposed to the possibility of both small fires fire, but more often to the force of what is most likely in both wars to be an improvised explosive device.
For the few years of both of those wars, the typical U.S. vehicle to transport U.S. troops in theater was a Humvee. A relatively light, thin-skin vehicle particularly unsuited to protecting its occupants from improvised explosive devices. It did get better overtime, although it took years. It got a lot better in 2006 when they really ramped up the replacement of Humvees in theater with a whole new type of vehicle invented by force of necessity. By force of what was killing and maiming U.S. troops. It was a mine resistant ambush protected vehicle, the MRAP.
Unlike the Humvee, an MRAP has a V-shaped hull. Humvee has a flat hull. MRAP has a V-shaped hull.
There are a number of different types of MRAPs now. I got a tour a whole yard of them in southern Afghanistan last year. They are tough, heavy, thick-skinned vehicles designed to deflect the force of any blast underneath the vehicle away from its occupants.
The MRAP is frankly a great, great advance over the Humvee for U.S. troops finding the kinds of wars they have been fighting for almost a decade now in Iraq and Afghanistan. The standard for them has been raised. It was a great improvement, ask them.
This week, Boeing announced the maiden voyage of its brand new giant stealth drone. It‘s called the Phantom Ray. It can fly at 40,000 feet, they say. They say it can fly at nearly the speed of sound. It‘s an unmanned vehicle. It has no need for one of those pesky, needy fragile humans to be inside of it.
Nine-eleven and our post-9/11 wars have given birth to a huge, new unmanned aerial vehicle industry, where more companies have competed against one other to develop and manufacture more than 30 different kinds of pilotless planes. Some of them have stealth technology like that Boeing one unveiled this week. Some of them, of course, are armed.
The first drones were mounted with a single camera. The Air Force announced that had its “Gorgon Stare” system this year will have nine cameras on it. And soon, the military anticipates it will have drones fitted with 30 cameras.
Remember when part of the strategy in Baghdad was to get biometric data on not just people who have been arrested but on really whole communities, tracking both the insurgency and building up a massive database of a who‘s who in specific parts of Iraq. Now, what would once have just been done with plain old fingerprints and ID cards, instead is fingerprints integrated with retinal scans, with—integrated also with facial recognition software.
Facial recognition software, they tell us, was just used to positively identify Osama bin Laden‘s body after he was killed in Pakistan. That technology also now is being used for civilian purposes.
We also had night vision technology before 9/11. But, now, we‘ve got thermal detection night vision technology which they tell us is roughly the difference between having two cans and a string and having an iPhone.
Companies like Lockheed and Raytheon are now developing exoskeletons for soldiers, so that when you do still have to use humans on the ground, in situations that call for a lot of endurance, or a lot of strength, your flesh and blood human can be robotically enhanced with an exoskeleton that they wear.
Remember when they all breathed a sigh of relief when they were able to send the robots in to work at the partially melted down nuclear reactor at Fukushima? Remember that? Why do you think our robots have gotten so good over the past decade?
The gee whiz technology that we have developed by force of necessity since 9/11 in our two wars and in our massive, massive retrofitting of our economy, our massive reorientation towards security, it really is a gee whiz list of inventions and technology. I am glad that all or at least most of things exist. I am particularly glad for the ones that keep troops safe.
I welcome our new robot overlords, at least until they turn against us.
Although all of this innovation and high-tech engineering and U.S. manufacturing comes from a dark necessity, the post-9/11 security technology accomplishments of our country are an American “can do” story. Imagine who we could do if we put that many resources, that much money, that much focus, that much intensity into technology that solves needs that we have other than war and spying?
Joining us now is Joseph Stiglitz. He‘s a Nobel Prize-winning economist, a Columbia University professor and he‘s author of “The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict.”
Professor Stiglitz, we name-checked your book on the show last night. And I jumped up and down in my office when I found out you could be on the show with us tonight. Thank you.
JOSEPH STIGLITZ, ECONOMIST: Thank you.
MADDOW: Historically, what does it take for a country to reorganize its economy after being at war?
STIGLITZ: Well, the big experience we have was World War II. And after World War II, there was a very successful transition. At that time, we were making armored vehicles in Detroit and they became—we restructured that to making cars. We then had a G.I. bill so that the workers, people coming off the fields and coming off the battle fields, would be able to be productive members of the new economy that was emerging after World War II.
And finally, we had demand. People who had not been able to spend all the money, they were working. They were saving. They helped finance the war. After the war, they had all that savings and that created a demand for the new products that were being produced by our factories. And that led to this period of prosperity that followed World War II.
Now, these conditions aren‘t here today.
STIGLITZ: Rather than a G.I. bill, we‘re really cutting back on investments in education. You know, the states are facing real budget constraints, universities are cutting back. So, we‘re not really making this effort to transform our economy.
MADDOW: We do have a new post-9/11 G.I. bill, but you‘re saying rather than ramping up overall our expectation and our facilitation of people into education, it‘s actually being depressed overall.
STIGLITZ: Exactly, looking at it from the overall perspective. It took a lot of fight, by the way, to get that G.I. bill for the Iraqi and Afghanistan. That was one of the things that we emphasized in the book. We pushed that.
And I think it was one of the victories that we‘ve had that we were able to treat these new veterans, as well as we treated the World War II veterans.
MADDOW: How do you think—you wrote this book calling Iraq the “The Three Trillion Dollar War,” which is just an astonishing figure to get your head around.
How do you quantify, sort of, I guess the opportunity cost of how we responded to 9/11? Just how much we redirected our resources into security and spying in the wars.
STIGLITZ: Well, there are two parts to this. One is the actual budgetary costs. And these are enormous. You know, part of the budgetary costs are the upfront costs—the soldiers, the troops, equipment, the munitions.
But there‘s another part that was really highlighted by that clip you showed. It will cost us almost $1 trillion to pay for the health care costs and disability payments of those coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan that are disabled. It‘s an amazing number.
So, those are the budgetary costs—money that could have been spent by the government for strengthening our education, investing in technology. Technology that would have been produced goods that really strengthened our competitiveness.
The other part is the impact on our economy, that has diverted resources to war that could have been used in other ways. It had all sorts of effects. One of them was that the before the war, the price of oil was $23 a barrel. The interruption, the chaos that we brought to the Middle East led the price of oil to start soaring after that. And that—that had an enormous impact on our economy.
One of the points I try to do in the book, this book was with Linda Bilmes at Harvard, what we‘re trying to do is to show that connection between that and the collapse of our economy that happened in 2008. Those two are very intimately connected, something that most people don‘t realize, because what happened is that the price of oil went up. The Federal Reserve had to lower interest rates because all that money would have been spent at home was being spent abroad. Lax regulation, that helped feed the bubble and that bubble, of course, is what has led us to the problems that we have today.
MADDOW: Professor Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Prize-winning economist, Columbia University professor and author of “The Three Trillion Dollar War:
The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict”—you know, there have been cool R&D and innovation and manufacturing since 9/11 in the security sphere, I‘m trying to think of that in a positive way about all the stuff that we can do, but your documentation of what we have spent already and how big this ship is that we need to turn around I think is clearer than anybody else‘s. So, thank you for—thank you for writing on this.
STIGLITZ: Thank you.
MADDOW: Appreciate it.
If eliminating Osama bin Laden was one of the prime reasons America sent troops to Afghanistan, what is the mission two days into the post-bin Laden era. Former Republican Party chairman, Michael Steele, will join me for that discussion, just ahead.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: The nearly 10-year long war in Afghanistan started with rather extreme clarity. We knew who had perpetrated the terror attacks of September 11th, 2001. We knew where they were, we knew who their friends where, who had been protecting them, and we were going to get them full stop.
Then came more than nine years of shifting metrics and sometimes amorphous policy from Washington and continued sacrifice by the American military. The Obama administration has restored some clarity to the U.S. mission in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And, frankly, the elimination of Osama bin Laden fulfilled a good part of what they say we are doing there.
If there can be ever a moment of operational clarity in which to declare victory and get out, is Osama bin Laden‘s death that moment? Across the ideological divide, we will go to find out some of the Republican answer to that with former Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele. Please stay tuned.
MADDOW: In his first major interview after taking over the U.S. war effort from General Stanley McChrystal in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus was asked on “Meet the Press,” this is last August, about Osama bin Laden and about the importance of the United States getting Osama bin Laden—and about the connection between that and the Afghanistan war.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID GREGORY, MODERATOR, “MEET THE PRESS”: Is his capture less important today than it was?
GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, U.S. FORCES AFGHANISTAN COMMANDER: Well, I think he remains an iconic figure. And I think capturing and killing Osama bin Laden is still a very, very important task for all of those who are engaged in counterterrorism around the world.
Let‘s remember why we are here. We‘re here so that Afghanistan does not once again became a sanctuary for transnational extremists the way it was when al Qaeda planned the 9/11 attacks in the Kandahar area, conducted the initial training for the attackers in training camps in Afghanistan before they moved on to Germany and then to U.S. flight schools.
The fact is that it was the Taliban that allowed al Qaeda to establish its bases and sanctuaries in Afghanistan when it controlled a good bit of the country. And that gives big pause, needless to say. And that is why, again, this insurgency has to be combated.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: General Petraeus saying there that the point of fighting the Taliban, the point of shoring up the Afghan government is so that what happened before 9/11 does not happen in Afghanistan again.
What happened before 9/11 in Afghanistan is that Osama bin Laden had protection from the Taliban. He was able to set up his training camps there where al Qaeda trained for and planned the 9/11 attacks.
General Petraeus arguing that we have to fight the Taliban so bin Laden can‘t set up those camps again. And that explanation of why we‘re fighting the Afghanistan war is frankly consistent with what President Obama has always said about it. No matter what anybody else has argued about why we are still fighting in Afghanistan almost 10 years after we invaded, President Obama has pretty consistently said very narrowly and very insistently that it is about al Qaeda, that it is about getting the people who attacked us on 9/11, narrowly speaking, and not letting them do it again.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I set a goal that was narrowly defined as disrupting, dismantling and defeating al Qaeda and its extremist allies. Our overarching goal remains the same: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
How does this advance America‘s national security interest, how does it make sure that al Qaeda and its extremist allies cannot attack the United States homeland, our allies, our troops who are based in Europe—that‘s the question that I‘m constantly asking because that‘s the primary threat that I went there to deal with.
Our core goal the folks who killed 3,000 Americans during 9/11 and who are still plotting to kill us, al Qaeda, how do we dismantle them, disrupt them, destroy them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: For all of the other conceivable reasons why we might be in Afghanistan for this long, President Obama has always spoken about it very narrowly about 9/11, about al Qaeda. And now, Osama bin Laden, the founder of al Qaeda, is dead—which is leading to and bringing to light questions like this –
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RICHARD LUGAR ®, INDIANA: With al Qaeda largely displaced from the country, but franchised in other locations, Afghanistan does not carry a strategic value that justifies 100,000 American troops and a $100 billion per year cost especially given current fiscal restraints in the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Senator Richard Lugar, Republican of Indiana. He is the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Those are some of this opening remarks yesterday at a hearing on Afghanistan. Senator Lugar, you may recall, raised a similar line of critical questions about the cost of U.S. military involvement now in Libya.
And with all due respect to Congressman Ron Paul, you need to know that Dick Lugar is no Ron Paul. Dick Lugar is not like the guy who‘s against every war. And Dick Lugar has not been alone among Republicans in raising questions about the cost in particular of the intervention in Libya and whether or not that was a good idea.
Our past two presidential elections have largely been about Democrats criticizing wars that Republicans have defended. It is starting to look like it‘s not going to be that way this time around.
Joining us now is former Republican National Committee chairman, Michael Steele.
Mr. Steele, it is great to see you again.
MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER RNC CHAIRMAN: Good to be back with you.
MADDOW: Do you think 2012 might be different in terms of war politics compare to the last?
STEELE: I do. I think you‘re going to see it play out as an undercurrent in the overall debate about the cost to the American people of everything. Not just the war, but the economy and gas prices. All of that‘s going to factor in.
So, I think you‘re seeing the predicate being laid right now with the killing of Osama bin Laden, Senator Lugar‘s comments today at the hearing, and the feeling amongst a lot of people, not just Democrats, for example, or those who have an aspiration toe end the war, but those who really look at this objectively and go, OK, mission accomplished. We got the guy. The stated purpose has been obtained.
One little caveat, the reality that Lugar points out is they have branched out. They have moved beyond the moment base, if you will, of Afghanistan. So, as we do, under the president‘s leadership, wrap up our presence there, we have to be mindful that al Qaeda is taking different shapes and forms in communities around the country.
Keeping in mind that the 9/11 hijackers, a group of them lived literally 20 miles from my home, in Laurel, Maryland, leading up to the attacks on 9/11.
So, that mode of operation is still very much a part of their agenda.
So, we‘ve got to be diligent.
MADDOW: But the relationship between the threat of terrorism and war is one that I think people are getting sharper about, because nobody‘s arguing that al Qaeda‘s presence in Somalia, al Qaeda‘s presence Yemen means that we should start a war in either of those countries.
MADDOW: So, when Republicans talk about Afghanistan, talk about the politics of this, is there a tension between the kind of argument that Dick Lugar is making? And that actually, frankly, the people like Ron Paul have been making—
MADDOW: – and the sort of Paul Wolfowitz, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, make the world safe for American democracy, big interventionist thing?
STEELE: I think there‘s an interesting tension within the GOP right now. Of course, you know, as national chairman, I got into trouble on expressing a point of view on the Afghan war.
And mine was basically wrapped around the idea not necessarily the cost of it, but what is our strategic purpose? What is the goal? What is the road map in, and, most especially, the road map out? And what do we expect to leave behind?
You know, the history there is not one where, you know, there are a lot of victors who go into Afghanistan. So, I think that that‘s part of the tension that you‘re going to see played out and it‘s going to be interesting to see how the Republican candidates for the presidency juxtapose their real view on what we should be doing there against an emerging establishment GOP view that we should continue to prosecute this thing all the way through.
MADDOW: Is that the establishment view?
STEELE: Oh—well, yes, I really believe it is. Keep in mind, the other side of that is that the president basically adopted, you want to talk about the Bush doctrine—well, it has been basically inculcated into the Obama doctrine in terms of the strategies leading up to what we‘ve seen get played out in Afghanistan so far.
MADDOW: Increasing the number of troops in Afghanistan.
STEELE: So, the Republican leadership bought into that early on in the Obama administration, backing the president. Remember that time when you had Republicans standing with the president going, we support the president.
MADDOW: He‘s tripling the number of troops. How can we not support that?
STEELE: So, now, you‘ve got that piece having a question mark over it now that the war‘s over—not the war, that Obama –
MADDOW: The hunt or bin Laden‘s over.
STEELE: Obama‘s done the deed. What do we next?
MADDOW: Well, that is—and to me, what I see happening is that what we‘ve been told with no change in strategy from Obama, we‘ve got a July date to start to drawdown troops. Everybody has been wondering: is that drawdown going to look like this, is it going to look like this? Is it going to be a steep drawdown?
This to me buys him political capital to make it a steep drawdown, at which point you‘re saying the GOP establishment will come after him.
STEELE: Oh, they‘ll fight that. And I really believe that there will be some within the Democratic ranks who will fight that as well.
MADDOW: It will split the Republicans more than it will split the Democrats now, don‘t you think?
STEELE: Maybe. Maybe. I don‘t know. I mean, you‘ve got some hawks on the Democratic side. They‘re a little bit more quiet than on the GOP side.
MADDOW: Yes, after 10 years in Afghanistan, nobody‘s going to support that.
STEELE: That curve is not going to be a steep one. It‘s going to be a gradual slide. After all, you‘ve got the leadership in Afghanistan saying, you really don‘t have to go if you don‘t want to. Well, that is a reflection of back channel conversations. They are saying, look, we don‘t really want you to leave yet. We‘re not ready for you to leave yet.
What are we leaving behind when we do go? A deadline is not necessarily a deadline when it comes to pulling our troops and then maybe having to send them back in because something has flared up—
MADDOW: See? I think people are saying we‘ll come back if you need us, but we‘ve got to go. And I think the decline is going to be much steeper than it would have otherwise been. But we will see. And then you and I will fight about it in a friendly way.
STEELE: Oh, we will. We will.
MADDOW: Michael Steele, former Republican Party chairman—thank you for being here.
STEELE: Good to be back.
MADDOW: Tomorrow, President Obama will visit Ground Zero here in New York City. That has some of his critics yelling about politics. Ed Schultz has some words of his own for those critics. It would be an excellent for you to tune in for Ed right after this show.
Coming up next on this show, a Zen riddle: if two Republicans who do not hold public office indicate they‘re running for president while they know rest of the country is obsessed with the dramatic killing of public enemy number one, do those Republicans need to say it all over again? Or were they hoping we wouldn‘t notice when they said it the first time?
Please stay with us.
MADDOW: One thing that political pros know is that huge news stories like, say, the death of Osama bin Laden, huge, all-consuming news stories provide great opportunities to hide other news, to do stuff that you really need to do but that you really don‘t want to talk about.
On Monday, less than 12 hours after President Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden, Mr. Obama‘s former ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, very quietly filed paperwork with the FEC to create a political action committee for himself. That‘s so he‘ll be able to travel and raise money in the lead-up to formally announcing his own run for president. Mr. Huntsman took that step right after the bin Laden news was announced—knowing full well that bin Laden would eclipse all other news coverage of anything else for days.
Why would you want to run for president without anyone noticing you were running for president? I do not know.
But Mr. Huntsman is not alone. Former Pennsylvania Republican Senator Rick Santorum also waited until the bin Laden news dropped to announce his FEC filing for his presidential race. Thus, guaranteeing about exactly this much coverage of him officially being in the running.
For a long shot no-name recognition candidates like Huntsman and Santorum, what the bin Laden news gave them this week was an opportunity for a soft launch of their presidential campaigns without too much pressure, without too many questions.
And you know what? It happened in Congress, too. House Republicans had a messaging problem all year in that their legislative agenda sometimes looked less like jobs, jobs, jobs and more like abortion, abortion, abortion. The third bill Republicans filed after taking control of the House, H.R. -3 was a bill to raise taxes on abortion—raising taxes and abortion above all over all other priorities. Not great messaging for House Republicans.
Luckily, though, Osama bin Laden just got killed by a bunch of Navy SEALs. So, while the media is 100 percent occupied with that, Republicans in the House picked today to vote for their raise taxes to stop abortions bill, the one they never really wanted to talk about—which is why I just talked about it.
MADDOW: “Debunktion Junction,” what‘s my function?
First question, true or false—Ken Cuccinelli lauded just today as a rising star of the Republican right, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli wants to be one of Osama bin Laden‘s 72 virgins in the afterlife. As it says right here in this great piece on “Huffington Post” by Jason Linkins. “Ken Cuccinelli wants to be one of bin Laden‘s 72 virgins.”
Is that true or false?
True, Mr. Cuccinelli did pretty much say that today in one of the weirdest tweets I‘ve ever seen in my life. However—although that is pretty much what Ken Cuccinelli said, that is definitively not what meant.
Mr. Cuccinelli or the Cuch, as he‘s known in Virginia, tweeted this today. You have to look at it. So, look here.
This is what he wrote, “How much would I give to be one of the 72 Virginans Osama is hanging out with since Sunday?”
How much would I give? I don‘t know. That‘s a strange question.
Directly, objectively, Mr. Cuccinelli is making a cultural reference to the dozens of virgins that are promised by the Koran to martyrs as their reward in the afterlife. That is one of the references he‘s making. That‘s a weird thing to want to be.
But the second reference he must be making—oh, please let it be he‘s making this reference—is to what was originally a Robin Williams joke. A joke in which bin Laden gets to the afterlife, but instead of 72 virgin, he‘s greeted by 72 Virginians who proceed to beat him up.
Mr. Cuccinelli tried to clarify his tweet today and proceeded to make it kind of worse. He wrote, “It seems some were confused by my earlier tweet. Read it closely. 72 Virginians, not a typo, i.e., people who live in Virginia.”
Geez, read it closely. OK, reading it closely it says, “72 Virginans” in the first tweet which must also be a typo, only not the typo he thinks it is.
Yes, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli did tweet today that basically, he would like to be one of the virgins shtooping Osama bin Laden in hell right now. But even though he wrote that, he cannot possibly have meant it.
All right. Next up, amid the news that President Obama decided not to release any photo of dead Osama bin Laden, at least three Republican senators claimed today that they had seen the super secret picture: Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss, New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte and Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. SCOTT BROWN ®, MASSACHUSETTS: I‘ve seen the picture. He‘s definitely dead. And if there‘s any conspiracy theories out there, you should put them to rest.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So, even though the White House says the photos have not been released, senators, including Scott Brown have already had it shown to them. Is that true or false?
False. After talking to Senator Brown, that same Boston TV station that interviewed him had to publish a correction to their interview, quote, Scott Brown tells FOX 25, “The photo that. I saw and that a lot of other people saw is not authentic.” And that includes the photo seen by Senator Chambliss and Senator Ayotte. They both also now admit that they saw something they thought was a dead bin Laden photo but it was not a real one. It was a fake that they thought was real, but they were wrong.
Lastly, to help go through the trove of data collected from the bin Laden compound in Pakistan, the CIA has put out an all call to federal agencies for Arabic speakers. Is that true or false? The CIA has put out a “help wanted” ad for Arabic speakers to help them go through Osama bin Laden‘s hard drive.
True. They do need help. NBC News reports today that the CIA is looking for Arabic speakers to help them troll through the 10 hard drives, five computers and more than 100 thumb drives collected from bin Laden‘s house.
That said, this isn‘t a call for you to grab your Rosetta Stones CDs and run down to Langley. Do not call the CIA and tell them you just downloaded Word Lens on your iPhone. And you‘ll take care of it for them.
The people the CIA is looking for need to be able to speak Arabic, but they also need a special compartmented information security clearance which is beyond even top secret. And if you are watching this right now, I am guessing you do not have that.
Now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW.” Have a great night.
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